The Changing Seasons, June 2020

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Matariki lights at Auckland Museum. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Matariki is the Maori term for the group of stars also known as the Pleiades or The Seven Sisters. Matariki rises during Pipiri (June/July) and marks mid-winter and the Maori New Year.

In recent years, Matariki has begun to be properly celebrated in Aotearoa New Zealand with many cities and communities holding festivals. This year, Auckland Council has scaled back many of the planned events and shifted others online. It was lovely then, to see the Auckland Museum lit up for the duration of the festival. The Harbour Bridge is also lit, but we’ve yet to have a clear night for me to try and photograph it.

According to Te Ara (Encyclopedia of NZ):

Traditionally, Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year. But it was also a happy event – crops had been harvested and seafood and birds had been collected. With plenty of food in the storehouses, Matariki was a time for singing, dancing and feasting.

There hasn’t been a great deal of singing and dancing in the ZimmerBitch whare (pronounced like farrie and meaning house), and not many photos taken either.

But there’s been plenty of eating, so for this month’s Changing Seasons post I’m giving you a recipe.

Anyone who joined me for afternoon tea recently will recognise it, but it proved such a hit with my (real life) dinner guests that I’m confident in sharing it.

Squash, fennel and orange soup

Adapted from a recipe in Simple, by Yotam Ottolenghi (1) Serves 4-6 people

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Squash, fennel and orange soup, with homemade sourdough. Image: Su Leslie 2020


50ml olive oil

2 fennel bulbs

1.2kg pumpkin or butternut squash

1 litre vegetable stock

1tsp harissa (2)

small pinch saffron threads (3)

1 large or two small oranges

sea salt and black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C
  2. Trim fern from fennel bulbs and roughly chop
  3. Peel squash sand chop into small pieces (2-3cm)
  4. Put fennel and squash pieces in roasting dish, add olive oil, about a teaspoon of sea salt and a grind of black pepper.
  5. Toss to coat the veges in oil
  6. Cook for around 20-25 minutes at 200°C; until everything is soft and caramelised. Depending on your oven, you may want to check it before then to make sure the edges aren’t burning.
  7. While veges are roasting, finely grate orange (you want about 2tsp zest) and squeeze juice (4) from the fruit.
  8. Put stock, harissa, saffron threads and orange zest in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  9. Remove 1-2 ladles of liquid and set aside.
  10. Remove roasted veges from oven and add to pot of stock.
  11. Use the set-aside liquid to moisten and scrape up the
    caramelised bits in the bottom of the roasting pan. Add this to the pot (5) .
  12. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  13. Remove from heat, add orange juice and use a hand blender to blitz until completely smooth.
  14. Serve with a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds (6) and cashew cream (7) .
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Squash, fennel and orange soup. Image: Su Leslie 2020

  1. There is a version of this soup — slightly different to that which is in Simple — on Ottolenghi’s website. It includes a recipe for caramelised pumpkin seeds.
  2. Harissa is available from Middle Eastern shops, and some supermarkets. It varies a lot in taste and chilli strength, so you will probably want to experiment with how much you add. I would start with 1 teaspoon, and perhaps add more to the stock once it’s warmed up a bit and you’ve tasted it.
  3. Saffron gives the soup a distinctive, earty taste, but if you don’t have it (or don’t like the taste), I wouldn’t worry — leave it out.
  4. In Ottolenghi’s recipt in Simple, he adds 180g crème fraiche to the soup before blending it. Because I was making the soup for vegan friends, I omitted that, and used the orange juice instead to thin the soup.I think it also adds a nice amount of acid and tastes really good. If it is still too thick, you could add more orange juice, or a little water or stock.
  5. If you follow my suggestion to de glaze the roasting pan with stock, you will get dark flecks in the soup from the caramalised bits of veges. These taste good. But if you’re aiming for a more elegant look you could leave this step out.
  6. The simplest way to toast pumpkin seeds is to put a single layer in a heated, heavy frying pan. Toss them for a few minutes until they start to colour and pop. Tip into a bowl and add a good pinch of salt (and a teaspoon of olive oil if you like).  In the Ottolenghi recipe, the seeds were mixed with maple syrup and chilli flakes and roasted to make more of a praline. 
  7. I wanted to make this a vegan dish, so as well as omitting the crème fraiche (above), I made some cashew cream and put it on the table for my guests to add if they wished. 

Besides making soup

About The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.

If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:

The Changing Seasons Version One (photographic):

Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month
Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them.

The Changing Seasons Version Two (you choose the format):

Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month
Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!
Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.

If you do a ping-back to this post, I can update it with links to all of yours.


Please visit these bloggers to see how June played out for them:

Tracy at Reflections of an Untidy Mind

Tish at Writer on the Edge

Little Pieces of Me

Suzanne at Life at No. 22

A Wonderful Sheep

Pauline at Living in Paradise

Sarah at Art Expedition

Ruth at Ruth’s Arc

Marilyn at Serendipity Seeking intelligent life on Earth


Katy at Wanderlust and Wonderment joins us this month

Darren at The Arty Plantsman


Ju-Lyn at All Things Bright and Beautiful

Gill at Talking Thailand

Brian at Bushboy’s World







Film Friday: on the dole and on the stage

The first few months after my son was born were a bit of a blur.

What I remember most is feeling isolated, confused and sleepless. There was a lot of crying (both the kid and me) and an overwhelming sense that for the first time in my life I had no idea what I was doing and no logical, scientific way to figure it out.

The other thing I remember was watching DVDs — often still wearing my pyjamas, with the baby latched on to me. Two of my favourite films from that time are The Full Monty (1997)and Brassed Off (1996).

I have no idea how many times I watched them — often back to back. I do know that they must have provided exactly the kind of escape I needed, and that I can still watch them with a sense of real pleasure.

My reason for including both films in one post is not only about my experience of viewing them, but about the films themselves, which in many ways are very, very similar.

Made within a year of each other, both films tell the story of a group of struggling, unemployed, working-class men in England’s (formerly) industrial heartland who find success and a sense of achievement through performing.

In The Full Monty, a group of ex steel workers plan to make some money by putting on a Chippendale-like striptease show for local women.

In Brassed Off, the colliery brass band in a town that’s about to have its coal mine shut down struggles to continue long enough to compete at the national brass band championship.

Both films focus on the relationships between a group of men struggling with the all-encompassing loss of self that comes from the sort of widespread structural unemployment that gutted whole communities. Yet both are comedies. The Full Monty in particular is very funny, deftly highlighting serious issues like depression, body-image, fathers’ rights and suicide without trivializing them.

Brassed Off is the more overtly political of the two. A major element of the story involves the miners having to vote whether or not to accept a redundancy package or fight to keep the mine operational. Accepting a payout that could keep their families from the breadline is also an abandonment of their identity and acknowledgement that a much-hated government has “won.” The speech in the clip below, delivered by the late Pete Postlethwaite, sums up the film’s politics beautifully.

Gender relationships in both films are interesting. The female characters are portrayed as strong, competent and generally in charge. In contrast with their laid-off menfolk, almost all are employed; indeed both Gloria in Brassed Off  and Gaz’s ex-wife Mandy in The Full Monty, have not only jobs, but careers.

Both films have romantic sub-plots; though in The Full Monty the relationship that develops between two of the men — Lomper and Guy — is almost an add-on to the main story. In Brassed Off, the relationship between the colliery’s consultant Gloria, and Andy, one of the miners, is much more embedded. Yet in both, the central relationships are between the men, and the two films offer both an analysis and a celebration of the importance of male friendship.

While I’m not a fan of musicals (really; you have to burst into song to tell me that), the soundtrack to a film is absolutely central to my enjoyment of it. With performance at the heart of both films, the The Full Monty and Brassed Off  have really strong soundtracks.

Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff is the song most identified with The Full Monty, though whenever I hear What A Feeling, I am taken back to the scene where the would-be strippers are watching Flashdance, supposedly to improve their dancing. Instead, they end up arguing about Jennifer Beals’ welding technique.

Understandably, most of the music in Brassed Off is performed by brass bands. Indeed, the bulk of the band (excluding the main characters in the story) was made up of members of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band; the film being largely based on that town’s experiences of the mine closures.

I have to say that brass band music wasn’t really my cup of tea, but this scene changed my mind:

I’ve watched both Brassed Off and The Full Monty quite recently, and still enjoy them.

Have you seen either? What did you think?

I’m including this clip for The Full Monty because the only official trailer I could find was done for American audiences and I felt it kind of missed the point. And besides, this one gives you a chance to hear the wonderful Donna Summer again.

About Film Friday

Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.








A quiet moment


Image: Su Leslie 2020

I’m not good at quiet. Although I like to work in external silence, words and ideas and images constantly play in my head — waiting to be written down or turned into photos, recipes, art projects.

When I see others engaged in what seem like their quiet moments, I often wonder if the stillness I observe really does reflect their interior state?

Lens Artists Photo Challenge | A Quiet Moment

A single flower

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Image: Su Leslie 2019

This week I have definitely spent more time baking than taking photographs, and I did toy with the idea of slightly altering this post to Friday Flours; wholemeal, white baker’s, spelt, rye, buckwheat — perhaps rice and coconut flours?

But I’ll spare you my attempt at humour and instead offer some images from the archive. Since this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge is to show one single flower — that’s what I’ve done. Or at least a bunch of shots of solitary flowers.



Acknowledgement at last

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Recently completed street art commemorating Elizabeth Yates (1945-1918), the first female mayor elected in any country of the (then) British Empire. Located in Onehunga, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

When New Zealanders speak proudly of being the first country in the world in which women were able to vote (in 1893), we tend to think in terms of national politics — electing the Members of Parliament who (supposedly) represent us.

But in reality, women had been able to vote in local council elections since 1876 — as long as they owned property and were thus ratepayers. This requirement definitely excluded most women, just not solely on the basis of gender.

And while — until a law change in 1919 — MPs could only be men; there was no such barrier to women candidates at the local level.

And so, one day after the historic general election of 28 November 1893, voters in the Auckland borough of Onehunga elected Elizabeth Yates as their mayor– making her not only the first woman mayor in New Zealand, but in the whole British Empire.

Elizabeth Yates was the wife of Onehunga’s incumbent mayor, Captain Michael Yates, and widely regarded as the power behind that throne. Michael retired from the mayoralty due to ill-health, and apparently wasn’t keen on Elizabeth standing for election to replace him. But she was an articulate, forthright woman, with a high profile in the suffrage movement and strong debating experience. In the absence of a viable (male) alternative, she was put forward as a candidate and beat her only opponent by 13 votes.

Elizabeth’s mayoralty only lasted one year (elections were held annually at that time), despite her success implementing some important policies. She was responsible for liquidating the borough debt, upgrading roads, footpaths and sanitation, and reorganising the fire brigade. Not bad for a twelve month period in office.

But she was an unpopular leader; considered tactless, (with a) dictatorial manner and lack of regard for established rules of procedure.”

I can’t help wondering though, if a man displaying the same attributes might have been lauded as “direct, decisive and great at cutting through red tape.”

Elizabeth Yates née Oman was born in Caithness, Scotland c. 1845. She arrived in New Zealand as a child, and spent most of her life in Onehunga. She married Michael Yates in 1875. The couple had no children.

She was a passionate and vocal advocate for women’s suffrage, but unlike many suffragettes, was not involved in the temperance movement and did not support prohibition. She is reported as saying it would be a burning shame to rob the working man of his beer.

Although her mayoralty was brief, Elizabeth was elected back onto the Onehunga Borough Council between 1899 and 1901. Her husband died in 1902 and her life seems to have disintegrated somewhat after that. She suffered from alcoholism and dementia and spent the last nine years of her life in the Auckland Mental Hospital, dying on 6 September 1918.

I first learned about Elizabeth Yates when I began researching memorials to notable New Zealand women, inspired by Anabel at The Glasgow Gallivanter who regularly writes about women in Scotland’s history.

At the time, I could find nothing — no statue, street name or banknote portrait commemorating Elizabeth. So you’ll understand that I was quite delighted to find this mural in Onehunga. It is tucked away down a narrow side street, and I had to make several visits to get a shot of it without cars parked in the way, but at least it is some acknowledgement of a woman who was, I suspect, well ahead of her time.

If you would like to see Elizabeth Yates in action, here is a link to the NZ Film Archive Nga Taonga Sound & Vision which has a clip of her addressing a meeting. It’s the oldest complete piece of footage in NZ and the earliest that records a political event. Unfortunately, I can’t embed the footage but it’s a short clip and worth the click.

Once again, I’m grateful to Anabel for inspiring me to find out more about the women who have shaped history in my country as she does in hers. You might want to check out her post Women Make History if you haven’t already.